Most people know that the world’s first heart transplant was performed in Cape Town by Dr Chris Barnard, but do they know that the other South African inventions include the CAT scan, Q20 and getting oil from coal?
More famous for our game parks, wildlife, friendly people and safari’s – South Africa also has a rich heritage of technical innovation and engineering firsts.
Here is a list of the some of South Africa’s most innovative inventions:
1. CAT Scan
The Computed Axial Tomography Scan or CAT Scan was developed by Cape Town physicist Allan Cormack and his associate Godfrey Hounsfield. He provided the mathematical technique for the CAT scan, in which an X-ray source and electronic detectors are rotated about the body and the resulting data is analysed by a computer to produce a sharp map of the tissues within a cross-section of the body. This resulted in a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
2. Extracting Oil from Coal
When the South African government realised that South Africa had minimal oil reserves, this led to the South African Coal Oil and Gas Corporation (Sasol). Sasol is the world’s first – and largest – oil-from-coal refinery and it provides 40% of the country’s fuel.
3. First Heart Transplant
Famously, the world’s first heart transplant was performed by Dr Chris Barnard in Cape Town on 3 December 1967. The patient Louis Washkansky was suffering heart failure at the time and Dr Barnard took the chance to operate him. After that, Barnard became an international celebrity. He went on to perform more than 10 other heart transplants, with one of the recipients surviving a further 23 years.
4. The Automated Pool Cleaner
The swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier from Springs. Chauvier tried to figure out a way to take the hassle out of pool cleaning. The result was the Kreepy Krauly and the first one was created in 1974.
5. Pratley’s Putty
George Pratley invented Pratley’s Putty while trying to create a glue that would hold components in an electrical box. Pratley’s Glue had a part in the success of the Moon Landing. In 1969 the substance was used to hold bits of the Apollo XI mission’s Eagle landing craft together.
6. Retinal Cryoprobe Cataract Surgery
Selig Percy Amoils, a specialist in retinal diseases, created a new method of cataract surgery at Baragwanath hospital in Soweto. He achieved wide recognition for his invention and in 1975 received a Queen’s Award for Technological Innovation. His cryoprobe has since been on display in the Kensington Museum in London and been used to treat millions of people around the world.
7. The Speed Gun
This invention could only come from a cricket-loving country. Henri Johnson invented the Speedball in 1992. The device accurately measures the speed and angles of speeding objects such as cricket and tennis balls.
Q20 was invented in 1950 in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal as a product to displace water from the distributor caps on the old VW Beetle, which was notorious for stalling in wet weather. It was an effective water repellent, kept rust at bay, eased squeaky door hinges, and made it easy to release rusted or seized nuts and bolts. Not knowing what to call it, he told his neighbour that it certainly had 20 answers to 20 questions, and Q20 was born.
9. Computerized Ticketing
In 1971, Percy Tucker from Benoni transformed the events and entertainment industry by inventing the world’s first computerized, centralised ticket booking system – Computicket. No longer did people have to stand in theatre queues for hours only to be told that the cheapest tickets had already sold out.
10. Economical Solar Power
In 2005, University of Johannesburg Physicist, Professor Vivian Alberts, developed solar power technology that for the first time used a micro-thin metallic film instead of the much thicker and considerably more expensive silicon-based solar photovoltaic cells. The technology has made solar electricity about five times cheaper and speeded up the development of sustainable energy.
Continuing the history of engineering excellence, Crystel headsets are the only professional call-centre headsets manufactured in Southern Africa. Born into the tough South African call-centre environment more than a quarter of a century ago, they have evolved and grown with 25 years of continuous improvement. Designed, manufactured and supported by a strong South African team, their products have been field-tested against some of the largest headsets brands in the world and found to outperform and outlast products two or three times their cost.